The Ultimate Beef Buyer's Guide: Choosing the Best Beef to Bring to your Table

Read our take on the important things you should know before you buy beef, straight from the experts at The Butcher Shoppe.

The reason you’re here is because you care about the food you put in your body. That’s why it’s important to get all the information you can before you head to that online shopping cart. Us too! At The Butcher Shoppe, we’re here to serve as your trusted source of valuable information and high-quality beef

So, we thought we’d dive into a few common considerations when buying beef 

  1. Grass-Fed vs. Grain-Fed Beef vs. Local Natural
  2. How Do You Choose the Right Grade of Beef?
  3. What Are the Most Popular Cuts of Beef?

Everything You Need to Know About Beef Before You Buy

Buying the right beef for your household depends a lot on your personal preferences in terms of flavor, budget, health, and more. Even though this is a subjective choice that will vary from person to person, here are a few things you might want to consider:


1. Grass-Fed vs. Grain-Fed Beef vs. Local Natural

You’ve probably come across the terms “grass-fed” and “grain-fed” beef. To put it simply, grass-fed beef comes from cattle that are raised on an all-grass diet. Grass-fed cattle generally produce healthier fats, omega-3 acids, and vitamins. A grass-fed diet tends to be healthier for the cattle, though it does mean they might not grow as quickly or as large as a grain-fed cattle, which in turn makes them a bit more expensive.

Grain-fed (or “finished”) beef, on the other hand, comes from cattle that are on a grain-based diet for the latter half of their lives. This diet is usually a combination of grain, corn, soy, or corn byproducts, though it’s possible that grain-fed cattle consumed grass throughout their lives. While the meat from grain-fed cattle still contains healthy vitamins, it also tends to have higher fat content. Grain-fed beef is usually less expensive, depending on the grade, and easier to find on the market.

Local natural cattle are raised following specific guidelines: no antibiotics, no hormones, and no treated grain or forage. Cattle in this category can be grass-fed, grain-fed, or both. Typically, local natural beef is the choice for consumers who want two things: 

  • To only consume meat that’s free of antibiotics or hormones
  • To support local economy and farmers

READ: The Butcher Shoppe Guide to Grass-Fed vs. Grain-Fed Beef


2. How to Choose the Right Grade of Beef

The grade of any piece of beef is based on many different characteristics, including lean meat yield, marbling, and more. The marbling is the white flecks of fat that provide more juiciness and flavor to the beef. In Canada, the top grade of beef with the most marbling is Canada Prime, followed by Canada AAA, Canada AA, and Canada A. 

According to the National Beef Quality Audit, the percentage of Canadian cattle with higher levels of marbling have increased over the last decade, meaning there has been an increase in production of that higher grade beef.  

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3. What Are the Most Popular Cuts of Beef?

Beef cuts come in all shapes and sizes, and they can be classified by where they come from on the cattle. The cut of meat you choose will dictate its flavor, size, and often your cooking methods, too. Let’s take a look at some of the more popular options at The Butcher Shoppe:

  • Tenderloin sits beneath the striploin. This is a tender cut that comes from a lean muscle within the loin, perfect for the holidays.
  • Striploin comes from along the spine between the ribs and the rump. The two striploins sit above the tenderloin and tend to come highly marbled. Very flavorful, though not as tender as other cuts, striploin is versatile—a signature cut in restaurants for as long as we can remember. Commonly referred to as the “New York strip steak,” or the “New York steak.”
  • Prime Rib (Capless Rib) refers to the entire rib roast from which ribeye steaks are cut. It is tender and flavorful, and it’s often quite expensive, too. A well-marbled prime rib roast is sure to please guests on special gatherings.
  • Ribeye is cut from the prime rib, which falls between the chuck (shoulder) and the loin. Ribeye steaks naturally have great marbling—very fatty and quite flavorful. If you’re looking to indulge your senses, order the ribeye.

A note on wagyu:  One common misconception holds that wagyu is a cut of beef. It’s not. Wagyu is a breed of cattle that comes from Japan or Australia. It can yield all of the cuts we’ve covered above–wagyu ribeye; wagyu tenderloin; and so on. Wagyu is known for intense marbling, exceptional tenderness, and outstanding flavor—a real treat.

How and What You Buy Depends on What You Care About

When you’re deciding what kind of beef to buy, ask yourself what you care about. For some consumers, how cattle are raised matters a lot. Other people do not want to consume anything that contains antibiotics or hormones. 

Think about where you buy your beef, too. Some people think that meat is freshest when bought at the grocery store butcher’s counter. Or they prefer convenience. In terms of freshness, remember that, when you buy beef from the store, the meat has to go to the meat processor, a distribution center, and finally the grocery store. Then you have to travel to get it. For some meat buyers, making this kind of environmental impact is something they’d like to avoid. 

Ordering meat online from a local or regional butcher shop is another option. Online ordering has evolved significantly. Thanks to the wonders of newfangled delivery logistics, you can have your meat hand cut, packaged, and delivered fresh to your door the day after you order it. Of course, you’ll want to make sure that your vendor never freezes the meat, or extends their delivery window beyond 24 hours. 

Whichever route you choose, there’s options for what you care about most. We hope you can use the detail in this guide to find the right cut of beef. As to the right way to cook it up, stay tuned for a blog post dedicated just to ideas for meat preparation.

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